A Distressing Journey of Self Discovery
The day after I was born in a New Zealand St. Helen’s Maternity Hospital I was sexually assaulted, as was the custom in those days. A doctor cut off part of my penis. This was probably done without anaesthetic or pain suppressants. My first sexual experience was pain and humiliation. The doctor used forceps to rip the foreskin from the glans, leaving it red and raw. Next he used scissors to cut off both layers of the foreskin, trimming off as much of the moist internal mucosa as possible. This removed the ridged band and most of the frenulum – both major sources of male sexual pleasure. I know he put in a stitch to stop any bleeding from the frenular artery, because the stitch tunnel can be clearly seen even today.
This act of genital mutilation was probably carried out well away from my mother so she could not hear my screams. Perhaps I went into shock fairly quickly and stopped crying. This violent introduction of the world was soon lost to my conscious awareness, although the effect of this so-called harmless procedure was to have long lasting consequences that even now haunt me several times each day.
Forced non-therapeutic circumcision of male babies was nearly universal in New Zealand in the 1940s. Many doctors pushed it for the money; others just went along with the medical folklore of the period. In my case the doctor appears to have convinced my mother that the procedure was necessary in case her son was ever to fight in a desert war where the sand would be an irritant to intact genitals. She may have felt she was doing the best for her son and of course the doctor got his fee.
Before I went to school I remember having nightmares in which a shadowy figure standing at my feet was extremely frightening, although I did not know why. When I was taken to the barber for my first haircut I reacted violently, which was quite out of character for me, and I ended up on the floor screaming. I wonder now whether it was his white coat that caused me to relate him back to the doctor who mutilated me.
I also recall from my earliest times I was very insecure about going to a toilet away from home. While this may seem to some extent normal, I think I felt extremely vulnerable and some have expressed the idea that there is an unconscious or bodily awareness that there is something wrong with the genitals because something was done to them or that I could suffer further pain. When I was about six I remember the rough clothes rubbing against my exposed glans. As a result, it became inflamed and my concerned father took me to the doctor. The doctor could only suggest I had been ‘playing with it’ which was not the case. Research has established that circumcised boys do not masturbate until puberty because the pleasant sensations of the foreskin are absent and the glans feels unpleasantly irritated. Prevention of masturbation was one of the main reasons the Victorian doctors (including Jewish doctors in Britain and the USA) introduced circumcision of boys in the first place. I wonder if my doctor ever realised his kind had probably been the cause of my temporary condition.
Luckily I never suffered from other complications such as meatal ulcers or meatal stenosis, both very common in genitally mutilated boys and men. Both my brother and I thought our mutilated genitals were normal. This was strange because the majority of our contemporaries seemed to have been intact. I was curious that there was such an obvious difference between boys and am still curious about how the intact organ feels and behaves.
Through my teenage years I accepted my condition without questioning, as virtually all mutilated males seem to. Somehow I felt ashamed of that part of my body without knowing why. I was aware of the sensitivity of the glans against my clothes that was always uncomfortable and would be for another six decades, but the brain learned to ignore these irritating sensations most of the time.
A Second Crucial Event
At the age of 24, before I was married, I was visiting my parents and the topic of circumcision came up because of a television documentary in which a particularly well-endowed nude African male appeared. This caused some laughter. My mother said to me: ‘You shouldn’t be laughing because you had to be circumcised twice.’ She said that the doctor must have been inexperienced, so an older doctor, Dr David Richmond Jennings (d.1984), had to repeat the procedure. How could my mother, who was otherwise protective and supportive, allow this? I now know that even if the physician asked for her permission, she would have accepted the authority of the doctor without question.
I asked why this had been done to me and she recounted the old Sand Myth. If I was ever to have to fight in the desert, as my grandfather and uncle had done, I would apparently be glad of having been genitally mutilated. Intuitively I knew this to be wrong and later I found out that it was a medical lie. Parts of our bodies are not cut off to avoid cleaning or to prevent possible future infection, especially as antibiotics were available in the late forties.
For the first time I felt a deep anger and hurt inside me. I had been violated twice. I had not asked for this. I was a victim. I was in a state of shock. I was unable to speak. As I accepted, with my limited understanding of the matter, that I could still function normally there seemed no point in discussing the matter further. I now know that from that moment there were strong emotions deep inside me. I felt angry, incomplete, unworthy, ashamed, damaged, deficient, abnormal, inferior, victimised and violated. I denied and repressed these feelings, could not even say the word ‘circumcision’ and always actively avoided anything to do with the topic. Like a rape victim, the topic still raises deep feelings of hurt and anger and my pulse races as my body prepares to fight or flee from danger. As a result of what my mother had said, I became more aware that I was incomplete and wanted to find the missing part. Like many other circumcised men who are aware of their loss, I became very interested in the foreskin and how it works. I now know this was part of the endless search for completeness that is characteristic of circumcised men who are aware of what has been taken from them without their consent.
My experience of sexual intercourse seemed adequate, although I always wondered why it did not equal the sensations I had experienced manually. While ejaculation was part of my sexual experience, full body orgasm was unknown to me. My wife even commented on my lack of post-coital euphoria, which I thought was just the normal male response.
I now know that the suboptimal intercourse I experienced was due to a lack of my foreskin and the thousands of missing nerve receptors (Meissner’s corpuscles) in the ridged band and frenulum. Predictably, sexual intercourse disappeared from our marriage by the time I was fifty. (Refer to: ML Sorrells, JL Snyder, MD Reiss, and C Eden; Fine-touch pressure thresholds in the adult penis; British Journal of Urology International 99.4 (2007): 864-9.)
Before our son was born my wife came from a doctor’s appointment and asked if I wanted our baby circumcised if he was a boy. It was still a choice for parents in the 1970s in New Zealand and some doctors appreciated the extra money it brought in. I replied, ‘Of course not.’ Since it was a difficult subject for me to deal with, nothing more was said, although I was inwardly filled with joy that my son would not have to suffer as I had. I had won a small victory in the battle against ignorance and for my own self-respect.
As my son grew up I was not really aware that he was anatomically different to me, although he said something on one occasion that indicated he had noticed my penis was different to his. I wished now I had taken this opportunity to explain about genital mutilation so he could build up a resistance to it through knowledge. I missed my opportunity because I was still in the circumcision coma and had repressed the fact that I had been hurt physically and mentally.
On another occasion my wife mentioned that our son needed instruction on how to look after his penis. Unknowingly this was a very hurtful thing to say to a circumcised man. How was I expected to know? I had never been taught. With a mutilated penis hygiene takes care of itself. My son never approached me, nor I him. Again I missed the opportunity to enlighten him because of my ignorance. If things had remained like this I would still be in a state of blissful ignorance.
Several years after my son married, my wife unexpectedly said that he was to have a ‘little operation’. Of course, horrified, I somehow guessed what she meant. I was upset and angry for several days, but kept my tormenting feelings to myself. I felt upset that the earlier small victory I felt I had achieved for my son had been snatched from me for what appeared to be the very worst of all reasons – Bronze Age religious dogma. My wife and my son belong to a local religious group that follow Old Testament tenants, while I and my older daughter are strong atheistis. I could not discuss the topic with him - it was too painful; I kept my hurt to myself. I kept thinking about it and knew it was the wrong thing for my son to do, but at the time was not aware scientific evidence that circumcision was physiologically harmful, resulting in suboptimal intercourse.
Eventually I rationalised that he was quite old enough to make up his own mind on such matters and that he and his wife could suffer the consequences of what they had brought on themselves. At least they would have experienced intercourse as it was meant to be for part of their lives. As a result of this incident, I initiated a search of genital mutilation on the internet and was appalled at what I found.
The Third Crucial Event – Awakening from the Circumcision Coma
A year later my son and daughter-in-law were to have their first baby. As the date of the birth approached I became more and more anxious. I tried to find out from my wife if a genital mutilation ritual would be a consequence of the baby being male. My wife asked why I was so concerned. I broke down and cried, and said: ‘Because I have suffered all my life from this.’ I was amazed and surprised by what I had said. She was surprised since I had never mentioned it before. She did not realise that abuse victims do not want to discuss the source of their pain. In the end, fortunately for all concerned, my son eventually had three daughters. However, even being around babies of either sex makes me apprehensive.
My Wife’s Support
Circumcision was a subject that was never discussed within my wife’s family. After my awakening from the circumcision coma my wife tried to be supportive so that for the first time in 35 years I was able to begin discussing the issue, although this was not easy for me. Intending to be as compassionate as possible she tried to assuage my grief. She said that she had not noticed that my penis had been mutilated and loved me the way I was. I felt this belittled my loss. She said that we had finished having children so it was not so important. Again without her realising it, this made me feel that my sexual role was limited to producing children and I felt ‘used’ rather than loved. She has been very patient and supportive, and seems to understand that my pain is very deep and real. However, in spite of my suffering she still accepts that genital mutilation of defenceless male babies is permissible for religious reasons. She is an example of a caring religious person who yields her better moral judgement to a non-existent god authority who, according to biblical accounts, has a poor track record in terms of moral behaviour. To me her sympathy for my suffering appears at least partially insincere and this attitude has produced an irreconcilable rift between us.
Anger and Grief
For me the damage of genital mutilation is not just physical but mental as well. After discovering what had been taken from me and awakening from the circumcision coma, I spontaneously wept over several days. I was very angry and grieved for the missing foreskin and for the experiences I had been denied. My confidence fell away and for the next year or so I descended into a near depressed state and almost felt I could not cope with my job. I even thought of suicide – since there was no one to vent my anger on except myself. Sometimes I took it out on my wife or other people.
For at least a year, every waking moment was filled with thoughts of circumcision. For some months I woke up in the early hours to think of it. Sometimes I had dreams where I feared that others would find out I had been genitally mutilated. One day I became tearful when I realised that the teenage boys around me were genitally complete. Why had I deserved this? Why were they allowed to be complete and happy, while I was mutilated and bitter? To help myself cope I wrote a list of the reasons for my anger and grief.
- Part of my body was removed without my consent.
- I suffered excruciating pain while the prepuce was cut and ripped from the glans.
- I was mutilated twice.
- My parents did nothing to protect me.
- My brain and nervous system have been permanently damaged.
- A part of my body that was supposed to produce pleasurable sensations experienced excruciating pain.
- I was unable to bond properly with my mother.
- I have kept isolated from other people for fear of being hurt again.
- The two most erogenous parts of my penis – the prepuce and frenulum - were excised.
- My penis has large amounts of scar tissue and a stich tunnel.
- My body image is imperfect.
- A private, sexual body part that should be hidden most of the time, is permanently exposed.
- I have had to endure years of discomfort because my clothing abraded my unprotected glans.
- I have spent years wondering what was wrong.
- Myself and my wife have been denied the pleasures of natural sexual intercourse.
- My glans became so keratinised and insensitive that sexual intercourse became unfulfilling before the age of fifty.
- Foreskin restoration is time consuming, painful and will never restore the tissues and their nervous system that was taken from me.
- I feel ashamed.
- I am incomplete, unworthy, damaged, deficient, abnormal, inferior, victimised and violated.
- There was never any scientific reason to mutilate me in the first place.
- No one has apologised for what was done to me.
- No one that really understands my loss.
- I feel my life has been much less than it should have been.
- I feel like a failed Victorian medical experiment.
- Helpless male babies, boys and girls are still having their genitals forcibly mutilated.
I wanted to kill the doctors who had mutilated me. I knew the doctors would by now be dead, but I constructed a scenario in which I would seek them out and use garden loppers to cut off their genitals. Even if I had to spend the rest of my life in prison it would have been worth it. I would still like to discover both the name of the younger doctor.
Even several years after waking up from the circumcision coma I start to cry very easily, but always hide it from others. It seems to be the fate victims of routine infant circumcision to suffer alone and in silence, because no one wants to hear their anguish or admit any wrong has been done to them.
Many circumcised men cannot ever bring themselves to blame their parents. My regard for my mother is less now. I was never able to confront her because she died before I woke up from the circumcision coma. I suspect she would have found my suffering very difficult to deal with. I like to think she would have been devastated and filled with feelings of guilt and remorse.
In the last months of his life I asked my father why it was done. He said: ‘It was automatic in your generation.’ This is not true because, within two families who were friends of ours, four boys were intact. When I told my father circumcision had a devastating effect on my sex life, he was taken aback by this and said: ‘I don’t know anything about that.’ I never got the opportunity to discuss the matter further before he died.
I now know that the foreskin and the frenulum are the more sensitive parts of the penis and are extremely well supplied with nerves. My ‘operation’ had been skilfully done and most of this erogenous tissue was removed. One can only guess what sort of damage was done to my nervous system during the two mutilations. Going to the doctor always seems to increase my pulse rate and blood pressure. I suspect that this arises from the double dose of sexual abuse I suffered as a neonate. Over the years my exposed glans gradually became deadened through constant abrasion. What I was left with is an insensitive organ that was unable to perform satisfactory intercourse by middle age. I have never known what normal sexual intercourse is like and I know I never will.
I feel that my body image has always been incomplete. Every day, in the toilet or shower, I am reminded of what was done to me as a newborn. Although I have passed through the initial grieving for the parts of my body I have lost, I would still give anything to be a whole person again. I feel a compulsion to search for the missing part and to find out what it would have been like to be complete. My life has been less than it should have been. At times I feel I am two people. One is the accomplished person I present to the outside world. The other is a helpless and vulnerable infant child who was abandoned by his parents when he needed them to protect him. Now that child, who was previously denied a voice, can be heard.
I am now coming to accept myself as incomplete – as damaged goods, as a second rate human rather than just a victim. As time goes on I feel less anger towards the doctors who mutilated me, but I would still like them to know the consequences of their actions and I hope they had painful deaths. My wife says my personality has changed since waking up from the circumcision coma. Now I am more irritable, indifferent, less involved and I have a less positive outlook on life. Somehow the future is less bright and death seems to offer a welcome peace.
In 1996, New Zealand passed a sexually discriminating law banning female genital mutilation. At the time, despite the case put to them by those promoting genital integrity for all minors, the government officials said it was ‘too difficult’ to include male genital mutilation as well. This was the action of politically correct officials who did not want to offend the Polynesians, Muslims, and Jews who all persist in genital mutilation of their boys. A goal for the remainder of my life is to see this 1996 sexist law changed to include all defenceless children, not just girls.
To cope with my anger, early on in this journey of self-discovery I decided that the story of circumcision of male babies in New Zealand should be told, since it is part of our national social history. I am in the process of writing a book on the history and harm. I have found a medical scientist to co-author. As a result of this research, it is possible that I will follow it up with a second book, of global significance, covering the anatomical, physiological, and psychological harm, as well as healing, of circumcision of male minors. I have checked baby advice websites in New Zealand and have written to one complaining about their outdated circumcision advice. They removed the page altogether. I have complained to the Radio Broadcasting about lack of balance in one programme and to the New Zealand Medical Council about the misleading advertising of an Auckland medical practice.
I have joined several foreskin restoration websites. It is both appalling and reassuring to know that there are thousands of other men in the world suffering as well. A hidden brotherhood uses the internet to offer sympathetic support to each other. I feel honoured that I have been able to offer my limited knowledge to some.
In order to help feel whole again I began a programme of foreskin restoration at age 59. I started by taping and the feeling of having the glans entirely enclosed was so warm and comforting. One person described it as ‘coming home’ and I fully agree. Progress has been quite slow. After three years I have gained a faux skin of about 2cm in length and the glans is up to half covered. The corona of the glans is regaining its former sensitivity, looking much smoother and shinier as it is in normal men. It still angers me that I have to do this just because doctors wanted their fee. I would have paid them many times as much just to leave me whole. Restoration takes time, costs money, is awkward and is sometimes painful.
While restoration has helped me get through the main grieving period, I now realise there are three types of men – normal, mutilated and restored. Being in the restored category makes me feel I am a fraud, because the scarring and stitch tunnels are still there. On the other hand, there is also a new feeling of increased confidence to replace the low point I reached when I first discovered the significance of what had been taken from me. In the end restoration is really just a way for me to have the last word before I die. Long ago the doctors forcibly removed the most important part of my penis. Now I can assume a powerful role in regrowing some of what was taken. No one will ever remove what I restore.
- Growing up circumcised and restoring to undo some of the damage
- Loose circumcision or a short foreskin?
- Overcoming a botched circumcision (skin bridge)
- I am a circumcised man that hates his circumcision